Other big gainers included #4 Finn Partners (up 53.6 percent to $46.2 million), #5 Zeno Group (up 44.7 percent to $30.2 million), #7 Walker Sands (up 40.2 percent to $28.5 million) and #9 The Hoffman Agency (up 33.4 percent to $20.2 million).
Ruder Finn, which did not break out its tech numbers last year, came in #8 with $21.3 million, and APCO Worldwide, which also didn’t list in the tech section in 2021, was #11 with $16.1 million in net fees.
At Highwire, Tech and Healthcare Join Forces
In 2021, “Highwire saw tremendous growth across all our core sectors including enterprise technology, cybersecurity, commerce and especially in digital health,” said agency principal Carol Carrubba.
“As the reality of the permanently hybrid world became apparent, both the complexities and the new opportunities necessitated strong communications strategies for all stakeholders,” Carrubba said.
She noted that “capital markets were ripe again for public offerings,” and that Highwire supported companies including GitLab, Qualtrics and Digital Ocean before, during and after IPOs.
Following Highwire’s 2020 acquisition of Wonderscript, which accelerated the firm’s ability to deliver full digital programs, its digital team expanded tremendously in 2021, and now leads strategic programs for more than half of Highwire clients.
Carrubba sees the growing connection between healthcare and technology as a prime mover for growth in the coming year. “We are energized by the unstoppable technology transformation in healthcare that is creating new models for care and ultimately better outcomes for patients,” she said
She also anticipates “a heightened focus on cybersecurity driven by geo-political issues and fresh attention from the White House,” as well as a shift toward “companies doubling down on data and new technology in the enterprise, from accelerating AI projects to staking a claim in the metaverse.”
Strong Organic Growth at Walker Sands
New clients such as commercetools, Outseer (formerly RSA Fraud & Risk Intelligence) and SambaNova Systems contributed to a healthy jump of more than 40 percent (as well as a move from the #29 spot to #7 on O'Dwyer's tech list) for Walker Sands last year, according to executive vice president, services Andrew Cross.
"We continue to see strong organic growth through new client wins, particularly in HR technology, logistics, cybersecurity, AI and healthcare," Cross said.
He noted that client budgets showed strength in the second half of 2021 and into 2022.
The agency acquired March Communications in 2021, giving it a presence in Boston and Atlanta.
Walker Sands also worked to deepen its capabilities in such areas as branding, marketing strategy, and multichannel creative production and execution.
"Looking ahead to the rest of 2022," Cross said, "I expect sectors like cybersecurity, energy and supply chain to continue growth in terms of mindshare and investment dollars."
We were extremely pleased to see our business continue to grow over the past year as we added strong talent and experience to our teams across the globe and expanded our client roster of innovative tech brands.
Hotwire Looks Toward the Future
Hotwire global CEO Heather Kernahan says "a spike in demand for lead generation, account-based marketing, and sales activity" were key elements in the agency's move up the O'Dwyer's tech list from #9 to #3.
"Tech CMOs were under pressure to deliver immediate results today and continue building their brands for the future," Kernhan says. To respond to the shift, Hotwire acquired McDonald Butler and "added extensive account-based marketing and channel marketing experience."
The additions "gave us expanded capabilities designed to address tech CMOs challenges and help them build brand reputation, strengthen stakeholder relationships, and ultimately deliver revenue growth."
Kernahan says Howtire "saw more innovation and tech headquarters going into key European cities and an unprecedented level of VC investment." Because of that, the agency named Ute Hildebrandt as managing director of a newly created Continental European organization.
Hotwire also launched key programs to further the agency's goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Hotwire Ignite Possibility Program was started up last summer as a way to direct more of the firm's resources "towards people and organizations creating sustainable change in the world through technology innovation." The agency also committed $1M globally in services to tech and tech-enabled organizations led by or supporting people of color.
Other new programs include Hotwire Into Tech, a free skill-building course for experienced marketing and communications professionals who may be interested in transitioning to a job in the tech industry, and a think-tank developed by its Spanish team focused on "paving the way for future female tech communicators."
PAN Rides the Start-Up Wave
“A significant move from start-up (emerging growth) to mid and later-stage brands” characterized the tech sector in 2021, according to PAN Communications chief marketing officer Mark Nardone.
“We definitely exceeded expectations for new business following the previous years’ unsettling environment around the pandemic, and saw clients sign on with PAN specifically during their companies’ critical growth stages,” Nardone said.
PAN rose from #25 on last year’s list to #10 this year, which Nardone says was “mainly due to how we reacted in order to better accommodate the shifting market.”
New clients at the firm included IPOs Weave and Braze, along with Booz Allen Hamilton, Toshiba, Amwell, BitDefender, Quickbase, Algolia and Collibra.
In 2021, PAN launched its strategic consulting group, which looks “looks at strategic storytelling through the lens of messaging/positioning.” The agency also expanded its media department, which helps media-train executives, brainstorm creative stories or angles, and lean into trending topics, among other functions.
Over the coming year, Nardone says he sees “significant growth and investment in Cybersecurity, Web 3.0, Commerce, and future of work (HR tech) and DEI initiatives.”
Ruder Finn Capitalizes on Cyber and Privacy Expertise
Thanks to clients incuding Amazon and Elastic, revenues for Ruder Finn’s tech pratice jumped by 34 percent in 2021.
"Growth was driven by a combination of big brand multinationals and nimble start-up disruptors in the hottest areas of emerging tech," said global head of technology Robin Kim. Hot sectors included cyber, AI, fintech, open source, edge computing, web3, NFT marketplace, crypto exchange, synthetic biology and eCommerce.
Kim says that the digital transformation spurred by the pandemic "has disrupted every business model," making communications "essential to building trust, navigating risk, and driving sales and adoption."
Factors that Ruder Finn leveraged to fuel its growth included "specialized offerings in supply chain disruptions requiring nuanced storytelling, virtual collaboration platforms transforming how businesses work and partner, the convergence of technology and healthcare and the subsequent new marketplace for AI-driven wearables and digital health therapeutics."
In the coming year, Kim sees growth in the "next internet era," which she says is "defined by Web3, blockchain, metaverse and NFTs generating a new suite of experienced-based tools and platforms which are redefining how companies communicate with their customers and stakeholders. "
Hoffman Hits Hyper-Growth
“We feel good about our 2021 performance, one that showed us shifting into hyper-growth mode—defined as increasing revenue over 30 percent,” said The Hoffman Group CEO Lou Hoffman.
"The top tech shops found demand for their services outstripping supply in 2021,” according to Hoffman. “The previous year found buyers with a mindset that simply maintaining the status quo or even retrenching was a win. By the time 2021 rolled out, these same buyers had decided it was time to get on with it and invest in communications.”
Another factor in 2021’s growth spurt: “employee communications and a renewed emphasis on corporate communications with an eye on demonstrating purpose”
Hoffman also cites the “outsized impact” that startups had on the tech PR market, with ne companies “hiring seasoned PR pros much earlier in process — often after raising Series A funding — and allocating larger budgets for sophisticated programming.”
Since the US remains “ground zero for the tech industry,” Hoffman says that the leadership position for his firm’s U.S. team is critical to its global strategy. “You can see how this played out in 2021 with revenue in APAC and Europe derived from programs that started in the US coming in at $1.93 million, roughly 10 percent of global revenue. This number will grow significantly in 2022.”
Finally, he stresses the importance of the “employee experience” at his firm, which includes a strong focus on staff wellness. “There’s no magic wand to getting this right,” Hoffman says. “It requires informal and formal mechanisms to ensure we’re hearing the employees’ voice and acting on this feedback.”
Clarity Expands Its Range
Clarity founder CEO Sami McCabe says that the agency “scaled nearly 60 percent globally” in 2021, working with such clients as What3Words, OpenWeb and Pay Zilch.
With $14.4M in net fees (up from $9M last year), Clarity moved up one spot to #13 on this year’s tech list.
“Incredible advances in technology, both from a product innovation standpoint as well as the impact the sector has on the world at large” spurred the growth wave, McCabe said. He singled out “sustainability, fintech, enterprise and consumer” as being especially important.
Clarity acquired digital agency 3WhiteHats in May 2021, a move that McCabe says is “the next step in our journey to provide a robust and comprehensive range of marketing communications services to our clients.”
He adds that “clients are looking for a true partner that can bring a broad range of tools to bear on solving their most pressing business challenges and seizing their biggest opportunities.”
As regards the future of the sector, McCabe says he is “optimistic that technology industry leaders will prioritize making a positive impact on society and build a fairer, cleaner, healthier, and more equitable future.”